Almost everyone from our era shares this common experience: we went to the Saturday matinee at the local movie. It was part entertainment, part social and part tribal.
“Gene Autry, a war movie, (maybe Tarzan) seven cartoons and a serial!” That was Saturday afternoon at the movies for many of us. Boys never sat with girls. We threw popcorn. And the noise level was deafening. Here is my account of one such Saturday afternoon and a story that made two of us minor legends.
Leave a comment about your experience at the end of this post.
He was big and I was fast. It wasn’t talked about, it was just understood the way kids understand things among themselves. My cousin Dick at 13 stood as big as some of our teachers and I could run like the wind. These facts took on significance on Saturdays as we prepared for the matinee at the Hollis Theater.
Our Saturday matinees were probably like Saturday matinees everywhere in the 40s and early 50s. We saw two features, usually one western and a war picture. Five cartoons ranked OK but seven was better. The serials, though, were pretty poor. We could always spot where they changed something that allowed the hero, who was doomed last Saturday, to cheat death this Saturday. The oldest of my four cousins did like Nyoka the Jungle Girl, however.
The whole thing began with some previews and a news reel which involved our participation. When the familiar concluding credits to the news reel rolled on screen we kids always shouted along with each word – “The eyes and ears of the world. The end. Paramount News!” declaiming the start of the show.
Tribal-like social order dominated our Saturday matinee. Rigid protocols determined who could cut line in front of whom under what circumstances. A noisy breach of the rules usually caused the convening of a hasty court of bystanders to adjudicate. By and large kids wanted to cluster with kids from their neighborhood so that, once inside, they could rush by the lobby posters announcing “Free Dishes Every Thursday” to claim their usual seats.
Any real rowdiness in line was risky because the hooligan might suffer a cuffed ear from an aunt or neighbor passing by, any of whom were empowered to enforce discipline.
A few kids from well to do neighborhoods actually got dropped off. The cacophony of us kids standing in line was brought down to a hush when a car pulled up. With no anger or envy we figured that those kids probably had movie money given to them.
I don’t remember why, but for me, my cousins, and most of my friends, movie money was our own responsibility. We weren’t really poor and it didn’t cost that much but for some reason we had to generate our own movie money. Some boys had paper routes, shined shoes or stocked shelves, but for many of us returning bottles was our source of cash. Small bottles were worth two cents and large ones a nickel. Because most people had milk delivered to them, those bottles couldn’t be returned to a store. That left us soda and beer bottles.
One boy, a bully I didn’t like, used to steal bottles from the back of his own father’s package store and try to get one of us to return them and split the take. Only a few boys would do it.
The magic number for me was twenty six cents; twelve cents for the ticket, ten cents for the popcorn, and four cents for the candy – if I bought it at Bond’s Drug Store, not in the movie. While I had a job, it was on our dairy farm and it came with lots of compensation, but not the cash kind. So, on Saturday I would ride my bike to town to meet up with my cousins and we would decide how much we needed. Often we could find enough just by scouring for bottles around the streets or asking a nice neighbor for hers.
But not always. That’s when my cousin Dick and I worked our special and dangerous plan. We had a railroad yard in town and while the era of ‘riding the rails’ was pretty much over, we still had our hobo jungle where (unfortunate) men lived and where they drank Pickwick Ale. An empty of Pickwick Ale was worth a nickel to Dick and me but it was also worth a nickel to its owner. As I mentioned, he was big and I was fast. The plan worked like this. We would walk along the edge of the tracks bordering the hobo jungle looking down to spot a bottle. My job was to slip down on the cinders, grab the bottle and run while his job was to fight off anybody who came after us. Only once did we have an encounter. My cousin Dick told it that while I was reaching for a bottle a hobo rushed out of the brush and he ran down and chased the man away. The truth was that there was a man in the brush but he was relieving himself and he was too old to chase anybody. Even so, our adventures entitled us to a certain swagger waiting in line at the Hollis Theater.
My wife and I went to movie recently. We shared a box of popcorn and a bottle of water. It cost $34.
Post your ‘Saturday at the Movies’ stories or comments here. I’ll share them.